Its top ranking was reaffirmed, despite suffering long and damaging travel restrictions which did little to halt the spread of Covid-19 and only resulted in serious economic losses. However, while its number-one position was retained, the US travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy fell by US$700 billion in 2019, to just under US$1.3 trillion last year.
Research by Oxford Economics for WTTC shows there has been no change in the top three countries – with China second and Germany third.
But the rankings are illusionary as the top economies bolstered their numbers through domestic travel, while international visitor numbers plummeted. In the US, international traveller spend rankings saw it toppled from its pre-pandemic top position. But despite the challenges of the past two years, the new report from the global tourism body shows business travel is on the road to recovery.
Resilience of tourism sector impressive
Julia Simpson, WTTC President & CEO, said: “Our report shows the resilience of the travel and tourism sector, despite the impact of travel restrictions around the world which failed to halt the spread of the virus.
“Despite a challenging macro environment, travel and tourism has bounced back. The world, with some exceptions, is travelling again. And we are seeing a resurgence in business travel. Over the next 10 years, Travel and tourism growth will outstrip the global economy.”
WTTC’s data reveals that in terms of the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP, China held onto its second position, with more than US$814 billion, while Germany remained the third biggest Travel and tourism sector in the world, contributing US$251 billion to the German economy.
The UK slipped dramatically from fifth place in 2019 to ninth in 2021, with a contribution of just over US$157 billion, the biggest faller of the top 10 countries.
In terms of international traveller spend, France, which before the pandemic struck was in fourth place, overtook Spain, China, and the US to grab first place. China, which remains closed to much of the rest of the world, was in second place before the pandemic, but fell dramatically to 11th position in 2021.
Across the Asia Pacific region, major travel and tourism markets such as Thailand and Japan saw huge losses in international spending, which resulted in both markets – in fifth and eighth place respectively before the pandemic – falling out of the top 20 altogether in 2021.
According to WTTC’s predictions, worldwide business travel is expected to grow more than 41 per cent this year. For the next 10 years it predicts business travel could grow an average of 5.5 per cent annually and may return faster in the Asia-Pacific region.
WTTC predicts by 2032, China could overtake the US to become the world’s biggest travel and tourism market.
The research shows China’s travel and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP could reach US$3.9 trillion by 2032, making it the world’s most powerful travel and tourism market, and India could leapfrog Germany to reach third place with a projected value of US$457 billion.